Not Another ‘Swan’ Song

Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Riveting, fluid and shocking are just three words to describe not only the storyline, but also Natalie Portman’s and Mila Kunis’ performances in this winter’s stunning film, “Black Swan.”

The film tells the story of a New York City ballet company on the brink of bankruptcy as their star dancer Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) ages and falls into the hands of alcoholism after her forced retirement from the company. In an attempt to save his company, the artistic director Thomas Leroy (world-renowned French actor Vincent Cassel) reinvents the classic “Swan Lake” ballet into an artistic masterpiece, where one special new dancer will take the lead of the company and play both the white and the black swan.

The film follows Natalie Portman’s meek character Nina Sayers through her obsessive and dark transformation to seize the role of a lifetime as the lead swan. Nina, a skilled and beautiful dancer who perfectly embodies the innocence and purity of the white swan, must transform herself into the racy and sexual black swan to capture the role, while not losing herself in the process. Not only must Nina overcome her personal inner struggle, but she must also escape the controlling hand of her mother, a former star dancer who lives vicariously through her daughter, and also not lose the role to her new “friend” Lily (played by Mila Kunis), a new dancer who moved to the company from San Francisco and whose lyrical and sexually driven movements make her the embodiment of the black swan.

This film is clearly a psychological thriller from frame one, filled with dark themes of drugs, self-mutilation, domestic abuse and sex. This film is definitely not one for the modest so, if you normally shy away from the R-rated section, you may not want to spend the cash — though you’ll be missing out. The movie is packed with many innuendos, some semi-sexual scenes involving the director of the ballet trying to get Nina to explore her sexuality more, repeated solo scenes of Natalie Portman and brief girl-on-girl action between Kunis and Portman.

“Black Swan” has received high praise and gained popularity quickly, which catapulted the film from small indie theaters to almost every theater in the country — with good reason. It’s not hard to see why audiences have fallen in love with the complex storyline and powerful performances throughout the film. The film captures the true essence of ballerinas, forgetting that these girls are just actors, which is an extreme compliment to the lead actress’ dedication to the film. Both Portman and Kunis prepared intensely for their roles and practiced ballet about 8 hours a day for a full year.

Yet, ironically enough, this was not the biggest struggle for the actresses. Portman and Kunis also had to get through the widely noted girl-on-girl scene in the film, having to put aside the fact that they have been close friends for years and leaving all the awkwardness aside to deliver convincing performances. Ryder’s portrayal of a scorned woman, a washed-up dancer and alcoholic is scary in its believability and, although she did not take the lead in the film, she will be sure to be awarded for her supporting role. The professionalism, dedication, and magnificent acting from these three actresses will undoubtedly get them various nominations for their roles and, along with the creative cinematography provided by the film’s director Darren Aronofsky, they will be sure to take many awards home this season.

Overall, the perfect performances of the actors, the clever storyline, and genre of the film could have easily been a disaster were it not for the perfect ensemble put together and the ingenious direction of Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky’s brilliant and keen eye for perfection is definitely noted throughout the film. His approach to lighting, camera angles and even settings elevate the film to a masterpiece of cinematic art. Not only are his past masterpieces, such as “Requiem for a Dream,” reason enough to see the film alone, but his excellent work in the psychological thriller genre is clearly outdone in “Black Swan.” This film is sure to become one of the most talked about films of the winter and is definitely worth the $10 at the theater.

Rating: 5 out of 5